NBA-Sunday- Kawhi nearing return,Jazz and Wolves clash

The Northwest division has been the best division from top to bottom in the NBA this season. It’s highly unlikely that all five teams will reach the playoffs, but four squads have a great opportunity to make the postseason. Portland owns a 3 ½-game edge atop the division entering Sunday’s action, but Minnesota, Oklahoma City, and Utah are separated by a half-game for second place.

The Wolves (44-33 SU, 33-41-3 ATS) are seeking their first three-game winning streak since mid-January as Minnesota is fresh off victories over Atlanta and Dallas. Minnesota has struggled to cover numbers recently by posting a 1-6-1 ATS record in the last eight games, including a non-cover in Friday’s 93-92 triumph at Dallas as six-point favorites. To make matters worse, four of the Wolves’ last five opponents aren’t even in playoff contention.

The Jazz (43-33 SU, 39-37 ATS) rebounded from a buzzer-beating loss to the Celtics by holding off the Grizzlies, 107-97 on Friday. Utah shot 54% from the floor, but failed to cash as 14 ½-point favorites to drop to 1-6 ATS the last seven contests. Hitting the road isn’t the worst thing for Quin Snyder’s team, who owns a 13-1 SU and 10-4 ATS record in the past 14 games away from Salt Lake City.

Minnesota captured the first two matchups of the season, but Utah rebounded with a home victory in early March. The Jazz took care of the Wolves, 116-108 as seven-point favorites, while three players were ejected. Minnesota guard Jeff Teague was thrown out for hip-checking Utah’s Ricky Rubio, while Karl-Anthony Towns received a pair of technical fouls in the first half.

Playoff teams should be playing their best basketball heading into April. That’s not the case for the Pelicans and Thunder, as both squads have dropped three consecutive games. Oklahoma City (44-33 SU, 31-45-1 ATS) looks to stay out of the dreaded 7th or 8th playoff position in the West, which would mean an opening round matchup with Houston or Golden State.

The Thunder have been squeezed in all three games of their current skid by losing each time by four points or less. The latest setback came in Friday’s overtime defeat to Denver, 126-125 as four-point favorites. OKC erased a 13-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter, as Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 33 points and 13 assists. However, the Thunder couldn’t hold a six-point advantage with less than 2:30 left to fall to 0-4-1 ATS the last five games.

The Pelicans (43-33 SU, 40-35-1 ATS)squandered a 10-point halftime edge in Friday’s 107-102 loss at Cleveland. New Orleans has failed to step up during this brutal stretch which has seen it lose to the Rockets, Blazers, and Cavaliers following a four-game winning streak. The Pelicans posted 45 second half points on Friday, while Anthony Davis was limited to 16 points on 6-of-19 shooting and finishing with a plus-minus of -20.

Oklahoma City swept the four-game series from New Orleans last season, but the Pelicans have taken the first two matchups this season. In their last meeting on February 2 in OKC, New Orleans rallied from an early double-digit deficit to pick up a 114-100 victory as 6 ½-point underdogs, led by Davis’ 43 points.

The Bucks (41-35 SU, 31-40-5 ATS) are on the cusp of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference as they wrap up their four-game road swing. Following a loss to the Clippers to start the trip, Milwaukee picked up back-to-back wins over the Warriors and Lakers. In Friday’s victory at Staples Center, the Bucks blew a 14-point halftime lead, but staved off the Lakers in overtime, 124-122 to pull off the season sweep. Eric Bledsoe stepped up for Milwaukee by scoring 39 points, while Giannis Antetokounmpo posted a double-double with 27 points and 16 rebounds.

Milwaukee travels to Denver to face a Nuggets’ (41-35 SU, 35-38-3 ATS) squad that sits two games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with six games remaining. The Nuggets picked up a huge victory by edging the Thunder on Friday in overtime to close out their seven-game road swing. Denver looks to improve on a 27-10 record at Pepsi Center as four of its final six contests come at home.

The last time these teams met up prior to the All-Star break in Milwaukee, the Nuggets shot lights out in a 134-123 triumph as 2 ½-point underdogs. Denver knocked down 24 three-pointers on 40 attempts, while all five Nuggets’ starters hit at least three treys. Center Nikola Jokic put together a triple-double with 30 points, 15 rebounds, and 17 assists, as Denver tries to pick up its 10th home win over Milwaukee in the last 11 tries.

As the calendar turns to April, the Cavaliers (46-30 SU, 28-47-1 ATS) still haven’t clinched the Central division title. In fact, Cleveland could finish anywhere from the third to fifth seed in the Eastern Conference depending on how the next two weeks goes. The next three games for the Cavaliers following Sunday come against the Raptors, Wizards, and 76ers, all teams in the top six of the East.

LeBron James and the Cavs have won seven of their past eight games, including Friday’s comeback victory over the Pelicans. The potential letdown could come against the Mavericks (23-53 SU, 39-36-1 ATS), who have dropped seven of their previous eight contests and have won a total of nine road games this season. Dallas has covered in its last two tries as a double-digit away underdog, while Cleveland has put together an ugly 1-13 ATS mark this season when laying at least 10 points.

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